Mr BARTLETT (Port Stephens) [5.25 p.m.]: Today I shall speak about the Stockton Bight National Park. As a young boy in the 1960s I lived at Stockton and spent many hours learning to ride a malibu on Stockton Beach. In the 1980s I moved to Anna Bay, where I continued malibu surfing at the northern end of the beach, as I do today. Stockton Beach is a very interesting beach. It is 19 miles long, and is ringed by the settlements of Stockton, Fern Bay, Williamtown, Salt Ash, Bobs Farm and Anna Bay. During the war, from 1942 to 1945 the sand dunes at the Fern Bay end of the beach were used as an armour proofing range where high-tensile ammunition was fired into huge chunks of steel.
Today this 19-mile beach is used for filming, including commercials, and a range of recreational activities. Since 1995 the Carr Government has announced the creation of about 150 national parks and three marine parks. Stockton Bight National Park is on the State Government's agenda. It is simply taking some time to bring that to fruition, and that is the purpose of this private member's statement today. My first real involvement with the community in the Anna Bay area was helping to gain support from the Commonwealth employment programs to help clean-up the beautiful foreshore at Shelley Beach, adjoining Stockton Beach. Subsequently, I have been involved in campaigns for, and achievement of, cycleways on the headland from the surf club to the cemetery, development of the car park, and the new surf club on the headland.
During and after the war years the northern end of Stockton Beach was also used as a bomb range for the Royal Australian Air Force at Williamtown. That area needed to be cleaned, and in the early 1990s laser equipment was used along the first three kilometres of the sand dunes to remove the unexploded ordinance. Once that was done, four-wheel drive vehicles were moved to the back of the beach, and access was given to them 400 or 500 metres down the beach. This removed the conflict of usage between the four-wheel-drive vehicles and the people using the beach for other recreational purposes. The vehicles were removed from where the people were.
Subsequently, in 1996 a four-wheel drive licence fee for people wanting to go onto Stockton Beach was introduced. Today 9,000 people pay that four-wheel drive fee of $25, and $175,000 a year goes to Port Stephens Council to address issues such as access to Stockton Beach, surf clubs, and so on. I have been involved with Stockton Beach for about 40 years. In my experience nearly every issue relating to Stockton Bight is difficult, takes time and involves working with the community. This is how it should be. Stockton Bight is a special place of high environmental value, it is used by many people, and currently it is the subject of a land and native title claim. No-one can be, or should be, in a position to wave a magic wand and make all interested parties happy.
A park will preserve these wonderful sand dunes and magnificent beaches for future generations. Since being elected to State Parliament—and I have been supporting the Stockton Bight national park proposal for some 20 years—my colleague the honourable member for Newcastle, Bryce Gaudry, and I have been working to resolve the many issues relating to the future of the park. Over the last 20 months I have had at least 30 meetings with various government departments and the community about the future of Stockton Bight. This is a genuinely complex and difficult issue. It involves Aboriginal land claims, conservation, professional fishing rights relating to pipis, a multitude of existing uses, different land titles and Commonwealth involvement. The issue of a Stockton Bight national park is not easy to resolve, and it is extremely important that the land claim issues be decided in the first instance before all other solutions come into play.